One of Malaysia's greatest ever sportspersons, Lee Chong Wei's tryst with the Olympics remains a story of as much success as it is of heartbreak. One of the greatest Olympians across all sports, the badminton legend was part of three successive Games only to come up short each time in his quest for gold.
Lee's dominance in his sport and his ability to hold off the Chinese gave Malaysia hope of winning their first-ever Olympic gold. But despite being ranked the world's best for a staggering 349 weeks, Lee continued to remain the eternal bridesmaid until the end of his 19-year-long glittering career.
His biggest rival, Lin Dan, stood in his way at the 2008 Beijing and the 2012 London Olympics, crushing the Malaysian's gold medal dreams in the final. Years of pain and anguish finally came to an end at the 2016 Rio Olympics when Lee Chong Wei finally got the better of the Chinese in an enthralling semifinal. But the euphoria soon gave way to yet more disappointment as Lee ended up losing the final to Lin Dan's compatriot, Chen Long.
Lee still wanted to give it one more try at the Tokyo Olympics but a nose cancer flareup expediated his retirement. With a whopping 69 titles on his illustrious resume, the 38-year-old bid a tearful goodbye to the sport that he so loved in 2019.
The Tokyo Olympics will be the first in four editions of the mega-quadrennial Games that Lee won't feature in. His competitive spirit will surely be missed by badminton aficionados all over the world when the Games gets under way.
With this being the Olympic season, let's take a look back at Lee Chong Wei's love-hate relationship with the Games.
#1 Lee Chong Wei at Beijing Olympics
By the time the Beijing Olympics arrived, Lee Chong Wei was already a dominant force in the sport and was closing in on the World No. 1 ranking. Yet Lin Dan delivered a hammer blow in the final that the Malaysian took weeks to recover from.
Before meeting the Chinese southpaw, Lee Chong Wei's campaign at the Olympics was going on uninterrupted. He blew away Indonesia's Sony Dwi Kuncoro 21-9, 21-11 in the quarterfinals before digging deep to see off Korea's Lee Hyun-il 21-18, 13-21, 21-13.
However, Lin Dan proved to be a class apart and Lee Chong Wei seemed absolutely unprepared to handle the Chinese's speed and variety. Lee went down 12-21, 8-21 in one of the most lopsided finals ever, winning just 20 points in the entire match.
#2 Lee Chong Wei at London Olympics
An ankle injury threatened to derail Lee Chong Wei's London Olympic dreams in the lead-up to the Games. But the Malaysian recovered just in time to participate in the Olympics.
After wins over Ville Lang and Simon Santoso, the Malaysian showed the door to India's Parupalli Kashyap in the quarterfinals in a 21-19, 21-11 win. China's Chen Long was then deemed to be a tough opponent for Lee to face but he was up to the task and easily dispatched him 21-13, 21-14 to set up yet another final showdown with Lin Dan.
The Malaysian made a bright start this time and it seemed as if fortune was finally smiling down upon Lee. He opened up a 21-15 lead and briefly had the upper hand in the match.
Lin Dan, however, couldn't be held off for a long time. The southpaw banked on his sharp precision and powerful smashes to storm back with a 21-10 second game.
In a riveting decider that had fans on the edge of their seats, Lee led for most of the game only to see a surging Lin Dan come back to inflict more pain on him with a 15-21, 21-10, 21-19 win.
#3 Lee Chong Wei at Rio Olympics
A lot happened for Lee Chong Wei in between the London Olympics and the Rio Games. He had to serve an eight-month suspension for a doping violation. The Malaysian didn't let it determine his career and came back stronger than ever.
Lee was given the honor of leading the contingent in the opening ceremony of the Rio Olympics. The 2016 Games proved to be special for the Malaysian's career for it was the first time he managed to turn the tables on his nemesis, Lin Dan, at the quadrennial sporting event.
In a pulsating semifinal that lasted 82 minutes, Lee emerged a 15-21, 21-11, 22-20 winner. With the Malaysian managing to overcome his perennial hurdle for the first time, everyone hoped that Lee's time had finally come.
However, that was not to be. Chen Long avenged his compatriot's defeat with a 21-18, 21-18 win, and Lee Chong Wei had to be content with a second-best finish once again.
Lee Chong Wei's everlasting pursuit for the gold remains one of the greatest Olympic stories. Some athletes don't end up on the top podium despite putting in their best efforts. But that doesn't make them any less of a hero.
Lee Chong Wei's undying spirit and his fervent passion for his sport are exemplary. He may not have succeeded in bringing Malaysia their long-awaited first Olympic gold but there's no doubt that he remains the country's greatest Olympian ever.